The Wrong Stuff is a book written by former Red Sox and Expos left handed pitcher Bill Lee in 1984, about a year after his career as a major leaguer ended. It is a fairly quick read at 242 pages. What it is NOT, however, is a "typical" autobiography by a retired athlete. Lee, a California native who attended USC and now resides in Craftsbury, Vermont, instead delivers a real gem of a read.
Humor, insight, irreverence, and honesty are the bedrocks of this book, which follows Lee from his childhood in California, through high school and college, and into ranks of organized baseball. Lee is open and honest about drug use, love, sex, and his personal philosophy on life.
Lee was not a big prospect coming out of college, not like guys like Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman, both of whom he played with briefly before being drafted by the Red Sox in the 22nd round of the 1968 rookie draft. While he didn't throw that hard, he managed to get guys out by being crafty, out thinking hitters, and sometimes just by being crazy enough to believe he could do it. He headed off to pro ball without a lot of hope of making the major leagues. He figured he'd become a forest ranger when he grew up. Thankfully for him and baseball, Bill Lee never grew up.
Lee chronicles his moves through the minor leagues. During these years, he tangled with tough minor league managers (Rac Slider), met future Red Sox teammates (Carlton Fisk), and his future first wife (Mary Lou), and made bets with teammates about who could drink a gallon of milk in one sitting without vomiting (nobody). As he does throughout the book, he chronicles some games he pitched in...there's no bravado here, though...he talks about the good and the bad with the same honesty and good humor. Lee's minor league career didn't last that long, as in 1969 he was called up to the Boston Red Sox.
Once he found his way to Fenway Park (an adventure in itself), Lee appeared in 20 games in that first season, including one start. He only performed so-so, but made the team out of spring training in 1970. He only appeared in 11 games, however, because he was called up for military service. Lee has some fun talking about the absurdities of military life, but is also brutally honest about how he got preferential treatment because he was a pro athlete.
Lee pitched for Boston from 1969 to 1978, and the stories of winter ball fights, teammates, pennant races, trades, near trades, and run ins with management and coaches are all classic. He talks about the Red Sox teams from those years....moves they made, didn't make, should have made, and how he and the team did those years. Lee was a 17-game winner three times in a row from 1973-1975. He rails against the DH and talks about friendships, rivalries, and enemies, both on his team and around the league. He writes about his only All-Star selection and racism in baseball. He acquired his nickname, the Spaceman, during this time. He also experimented with drugs and alcohol, all of which he talks about openly and honestly.
The 1975 season had the Red Sox winning the pennant and going on to play the Cincinnati Reds in one of the greatest World Series ever played. Lee chronicles the season, and the run through the playoffs and the World Series. He started two games in that series, including the deciding seventh game, but did not record a win or loss. He had to leave game seven when a blister popped. The Sox bullpen coughed up the lead, and the Sox lost the series. Lee was fairly philosophical about the World Series loss, reasoning that it was great just to be part of such a great series. He spent two weeks that off-season in Red China as a goodwill ambassador, and came away with some interesting insights and stories.
Lee writes a lot about the 1976 season...a season that saw several players Lee saw as key cogs in the 1975 World Series team traded away, a brawl with the Yankees, his painful recovery, more trades in Boston, his thoughts on free agency, and a lot more. The brawl with the Yankees, who Lee and many other Red Sox flat out hated, involved Lee sustaining a major shoulder injury after being body slammed during the brawl by Yankees third baseman Craig Nettles. That year also saw the death of longtime Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey. Between the shoulder injury, the death of Yawkey, and a managerial change from Darrel Johnson to Don Zimmer, Lee feels that this season was a turning point in his time in Boston, and that his days there were now numbered.
During the 1977 season, Lee and several other "renegades" bound together to form the "Royal Order of the Buffalo Heads", named after manager Don Zimmer, who the compared to the buffalo, considered by many to be one of the dumbest animals alive. Lee also pitched the first game of his career under the influence of a controlled substance that year. He got shuffled between the pen, the rotation, and the manager's doghouse. By the beginning of spring training 1978, Lee was one of only two of the five "buffalo heads", who was still around. Both assumed they wouldn't be around for long.
Lee talks about friendships with teammates like Dennis Eckersley and Bernie Carbo, and opponents like George Brett, providing some great stories. The 1978 season started out hot for both the Red Sox (led by slugger Jim Rice) and Lee, although Lee's injured arm would tire as the season progressed. Lee's first major run-in with management happened right after the trading deadline in June. When Carbo, a good friend and solid player, was sold to Cleveland for only $15,000, Lee went on strike for a day. It caused a major uproar, and got Lee into confrontations with team management. The Red Sox began to slip, and the Yankees came on hard. What had been a big division lead evaporated, and the division title came down to a one game playoff between the Yankees and Red Sox. The famous game was decided on a home run by light-hitting Bucky Dent, the Yankees went to the World Series, and the Red Sox went home. Lee, who loved his time in Boston, knew his time there was over. In December, he was traded to the Montreal Expos for Stan Papi, who would appear in only 50 games for Boston, hitting just .188.
Lee began the 1979 season on a new team (the Expos), in a new league (the National), and with a whole new roster of teammates. He was reunited with manager Dick Williams, something he was pleased with. Trouble tended to follow him, though...and in spring training, he admitted to the media that he'd been using marijuana since 1968. This caused quite a stir, including some visits from the FBI, but Lee managed to escape any real trouble. He speaks a bit more at this point in the book on his own drug use, drug use in baseball, and baseball training and the changes that were happening in that area during his career. Again, he hits all topics with humor, honesty, and insight. Lee went on to win 16 games in his first year in Montreal, and the talented team finished in second place. Even success came with its rough spots...Lee was hit by a cab while jogging in mid-season, but only missing two starts. The new teammates in Montreal provide for a whole new batch of amusing stories.
Lee could have become a free agent after the 1979 season, but without an agent, he negotiated himself a new three year deal with Montreal. The contract was probably below market for the time, especially since it included deferred money, but he said he had fallen in love with the city, and that money wasn't that important. He was not a fan of free agency, at all, considering it a bad thing for the game.
Lee had a bit of a rollercoaster ride for the 1980 and 1981 seasons both on and off the field. He hurt himself pretty badly falling from the side a friend's house (he was trying to climb up and tap on the window), and missed a lot of time in 1980. Meanwhile, his marriage was falling apart, and he and his first wife ended up getting a divorce. He had a lousy record in 1980, going 4-6 with a 4.96 ERA in 24 games.
The player strike hit in 1981, and that made for a split season. Lee's personal life continued to be topsy-turvy, with his marriage ending, and him meeting the woman who would become his second wife. Lee pitched pretty well, going 5-6 in 31 games (7 starts) with a nifty 2.94 ERA. Williams was replaced as manager during the season, however, and Lee and the other players soon found his replacement Jim Fanning, wasn't up for the job. The players held a meeting and basically decided to self-manage themselves, so that their new manager didn't cost them a trip to the playoffs. The team did make the playoffs, eventually losing to the Dodgers. Lee was married for the second time after the season.
The 1982 season began with more problems with Fanning. Fanning seemed to have it in for a friend of Lee's, teammate Rodney Scott, who had been the starting second baseman for the previous several seasons. Scott was a good field, not hit player, and Lee felt he was a key to the team's defense. Fanning disagreed, and buried Scott on the roster to begin the 1982 season. Eventually, the team released Scott. Lee again went on strike...skipping the team's game and heading to a bar, where he had three beers while watching the game. When he realized his team might need him to pitch, and not wanting to let down his teammates, he headed back to the park, reaching the clubhouse by the 8th inning.
It would be the last time in a major league uniform, in Montreal or anywhere else. He was released by the Expos on May 9th, 1982. After taking a few weeks off, Lee tried to hook up with another major league team for the rest of the season. Nobody called, and nobody returned his calls. He got more of the same as the 1983 spring training camps began.
Lee believes that he was blacklisted by major league baseball as a troublemaker. A conversation he writes about with Dick Williams seems to lend that theory some credence. Is it true? We may never know for sure...but in 1982, Lee was a 35 year old left handed pitcher who could start and relieve. He was coming off a season with an ERA of 2.94, and had a career ERA of 3.62. In baseball, left handed pitchers who can get people out are always a commodity, regardless of age. The chance that nobody in baseball had a spot for one in 1982 or 1983 seems hard to believe.
Overall, The Wrong Stuff was an excellent read...fun, controversial, enlightening, and thought provoking. Lee is one of the all time great characters in Red Sox, and baseball, history. I consider this book to be one of the top three baseball autobiographies I have read, with Jim Bouton's Ball Four and Ted Williams "My Turn at Bat".
Any fan of the game who wants some insight into the inner workings of major league baseball and one of its wackiest players will enjoy this book. Because of it's blunt discussions about drugs, sex, politics, and other controversial topics, the book is obviously not recommended for young fans of the game.